Monday, September 17, 2018

We Have Books, We Have Our Studies

Last week, I was greeted by the best type of mail you can get: books!

I have a looooong Sherlockian scholarship To Be Read list, and when I came across a fellow Sherlockian that was looking to part with some books, I was happy to pick three of them up and cross those titles off of my TBR list.

So, when I unwrapped the package that day, I took the obligatory pic to post on Twitter and then I carried them downstairs to add to my collection of Sherlockian books that I haven't yet read.

There's quite a bit to read.

These three shelves of books, journals and articles are JUST Sherlockiana.  I've got a whole other shelf and a half of other things to read.  (Yes, I have twice as much Sherlockiana as other reading material.  Hi, my name is Rob and I'm an addict.)  Even if I stopped buying books right now, I'd have at least a year's worth of reading material to keep me busy.

So why do I keep buying more books? 

Have you seen the great scholarship out there?  BSI Publishing and Wessex Press alone could keep a Sherlockian well up in books for a long, long time.  And then there are those other smaller or defunct publishers of scholarship: MX's scholarship arm, The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, Magico, the millions of journals that seemed to flow out of Peoria, Illinois...

A common lament among the avid reader is that we will never be able to read even a fraction of all of the good books in the world.  The same could be said for Sherlockian scholarship.  I may never get to own every item on The Shaw 100 (too expensive) or read everything written about Holmes and religion (too numerous), but I'm not going down without a fight.

We can but try.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Why Not Give Ourselves Up to the Unrestrained Enjoyment of the Present?

My favorite Sherlockian activity is spending time with other Sherlockians.  And my favorite group of Sherlockians is The Parallel Case of St. Louis.  We meet every other month, and I always walk away from those meetings with a little extra bounce in my step when it comes to this hobby. 

Two of our members, Margie and Karl, were members of The Parallel Case and my other scion, The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn many years ago and are reemerging back into the St. Louis Sherlockian scene.  At the Holmes in the Heartland symposium, I commented on Margie's nice Harpooners pin that she was wearing.  We talked briefly about the group and moved on with the day.  At yesterday's meeting, look what she and Karl brought me:

But I don't love Sherlockians just because we give each other stuff.

We were able to coerce one of my online Sherlockian friends, Heather, to join us at Holmes in the Heartland last month.  I've never talked to her in person before even though she and I live in the same town, so it was great to meet her in person.  She seemed to really enjoy herself at HITH, so I was hopeful to see her at our next regular scion meeting.  And there she was!  In fact, she fit in so well, at one point I'd forgotten that it was her first scion meeting. 

After the meeting, some of us ended up at a bar down the street talking about all kinds of other stuff.  Of course, a lot of it was Sherlockian, but we also hit on whiskeys, bad jokes, Rex Stout, brain cancer, P.G. Wodehouse and more.  I was happy to see two of the folks in our group be introduced to From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Bostrom when another member said that he was currently reading it.  Is it just me, or is there a little thrill when readers and books are connected?

Later on that day, I was reminded of my second favorite group of Sherlockians: the online community.  I posted a silly picture of my dog where she looked like she was perusing my book collection.

Which, of course, was turned into a delightful blog post by Brad Keefauver. 

It's so easy to get bogged down by the political turmoil of the day or ongoing stresses at work, that it's always nice to know there's a great community out there just waiting to brighten your day.  Cheers to Sherlockians!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Interesting Interview: Ashley Polasek

Oh boy, are you in for great interview this month!  Ashley Polasek, Ph.D., took time out of her extremely busy schedule to answer some questions about the interests we all share in Sherlockiana.  

Ashley has been published in a number of Sherlockian texts including The Baker Street Journal, "Dancing to Death," "About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story is the Best" and way too many to list here.  She was also co-editor of "Sherlock Holmes: Behind the Canonical Screen" and "A Plum Assignment: Discourses on P.G. Wodehouse and His World." A member of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes and The Baker Street Babes, hardly a day passes without Sherlockiana being a part of her life.  

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I’m ecumenical when it comes to our beloved enthusiasm (or, as I like to call myself, Sherlocumenical), so the only Sherlockian I feel it’s my place to define is me. For me, being a Sherlockian means holding a deep affection for the Sherlock Holmes character, participating in and contributing to our community, and enjoying the fellowship of other Sherlockians. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who calls themselves “Sherlockian” is one, and is welcome to join me in that fellowship.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

Although I’d been reading the Canon and assiduously watching adaptations for some time, I feel like I became a Sherlockian when I found the community. That happened when I was 23 and found a web forum called I lived on that forum every day for upwards of a year. The atmosphere was welcoming, the denizens diverse, and the conversation utterly delightful. When I decided to pursue my PhD in England, I arranged a meet-up of members of the forum in London while I was over to have my interview with my prospective supervisor. Three months later, I attended my first BSI weekend, and I haven’t missed one since—I’ll be attending my tenth in January. Although the forum no longer exists, I have maintained treasured friendships made there. In fact, my husband and I have gone on long holidays the UK, US, and even Italy with a couple I met through the forum. I credit with teaching me how to be a Sherlockian.  

How did you become a professional Sherlockian?

Professional Sherlockian. Hardly seems possible, does it? It was a fortuitous confluence of events, really. Having done my BA in radio/tv/film and my MA in English with a focus on Victorian literature, I decided to write my MA thesis on adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I may have gone another route, but the point during my Master’s studies when it was time to decide on a subject for my thesis coincided with that delightful year I spent with the community, and the Sherlockian fever was running high. Additionally, my university had a faculty member who was part of the Association of Adaptation Studies and was interested in supervising the project. I found that while my classmates grew weary, even embittered with their theses the longer they worked, I kept shining a light into exciting, mysterious rooms I wanted to explore, but couldn’t within the boundaries of my project.

Ultimately, I decided that if I wanted to continue my research, I should do a PhD on adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, which would give me more time and a broader purview for my research and writing. Fast forward to today, and I’ve established an international reputation as a scholar writing about Holmes on screen. I’ve published quite widely and have delivered papers at conferences from LA to Istanbul, Oxford to Sweden, and always with the aim of deepening our understanding of what I consider to be one of popular culture’s most interesting and enlightening artifacts. Academia, especially in the humanities, is a tough career path—there’s a lot of pinching pennies and slogging to make a name for yourself—but I’ve finally reached the point where I not only get paid for teaching, but also for travelling to give lectures and publishing work on Sherlock Holmes: I’m living the dream!

What is your favorite canonical story?

It’s prone to change from day to day, but I’m especially fond of Hound, having lived inside it while working on my MA thesis. I also love “Abbey Grange,” which I think explores some dark themes in an especially socially progressive way. That’s why I selected “Miss Mary Fraser” as my Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes investiture.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

Adaptations, for sure. I have approached Sherlock Holmes adaptations from so many different angles, and there seems to be no end to their capacity to surprise, delight, and educate me. Every time a new film or television show crops up, I am absolutely giddy with delight. I like to joke that I love even the dreadful adaptations because they’re all job security for me. But truly, my research depends on my ability to resist the idea that there is a “real” or “true” Sherlock Holmes that can be undermined or insulted by adaptations, so I can find something to enjoy in all of them. I especially love sharing adaptations with others and showing them new ways to view them.

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?

I’m interested in the evolution of the Holmes character on screen. I like to look at what sort of “mutations” seem to have crept in over time, like the Holmes-as-caustic-antihero version that’s been popular for the last decade; what social pressures have exerted themselves on him at different times, altering, for instance, how he interacts with women in films made in different decades; and how the process of adaptation itself—everything from the practicalities of technologies to the creative control of fans—reshapes him. Think about it: we can actually trace the trajectory of a character becoming a myth. When hero tales were mostly passed down orally—King Arthur or Robin Hood for example—this process took centuries, population migrations, linguistic shifts, and cultural hybridization. It’s happened in the space of a few generations with Sherlock Holmes, and we have access to the primary history, artefacts, and, in some cases, individuals, to study. How cool is that?

You've done lots of writing, both individually and collaboratively. Which method do you prefer?

I write on my own, but I often lean on others during the brainstorming and revising phases. There are three Sherlockians on whom I call for that. M’Colleagues Lyndsay Faye and Tim Greer are brilliant with helping me brainstorm. Both are wildly creative, fiercely knowledgeable, and wickedly funny. I may start with the wee seed of an idea, but after an hour on a group text with them, my brain is buzzing and I’m ready to closet myself away in a café and get words on the page.

When I have a draft done, it goes to my dear friend Curtis Armstrong. Curtis and I have so much in common and think so similarly that he always seems to know what I meant rather than what I wrote and better still, is able to point it out, so in my final drafts, I write what I mean. He’s the only person who has read my full doctoral dissertation cover to cover who was not paid to do so—nobody knows my style better, and nobody is better at telling me when my tone gets to academic for a Sherlockian paper or talk. For a few years now, every Sherlockian talk I’ve given and every Sherlockian article I’ve published has benefited from Lyndsay, Tim, and Curtis.

One of your areas of expertise is Sherlockian adaptations. In your opinion, what makes a good adaptation?

Ah, that really depends on a word that’s basically impossible to define: “good”. For me, a good adaptation doesn’t need to be Canonical. It doesn’t need to have some weird, ill-defined though oft-referenced “spiritual” connection to Conan Doyle. (“True to the spirit”? What does that really mean, anyway?) What it needs is a capable team of creative people who care to produce something fun to watch. That means a clever script, adept actors embodying their roles with clear intention, and careful attention to a well-realized mise-en-scène. Maybe the result is Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, maybe it’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, or maybe it’s Granada’s “The Blue Carbuncle.” They’re all different, but they’re all great. We’re back to that Sherlocumenicalism!

What Sherlockian things do you like to read other than the Canon?

I primarily enjoy Sherlockian non-fiction for my reading material. The articles in the Baker Street Journal are always worth the time. I learn so much not just about Holmes, but about Sherlockiana and Victoriana as well. Shout out to Steven Rothman and the time and effort he puts into editing the BSJ. I also enjoy the blogs of several Sherlockians—this one among them. These folks offer wonderful reflections on the community and its happenings. Last, but most prominently, I am active in the Sherlockian Twitterverse. I love reading posts about what others are up to—what they’re reading, what they’re writing, what events they’re attending—and I love that I get to interact with so many wonderful people I’d never have had the pleasure to know otherwise. …Are you sensing a theme emerging here?

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

Alive and well in whatever new media spaces are charted between now and then. The institutions will remain, enriched by the ever-emerging crop of dedicated Sherlockians who serve as permanent anchors for the community. But wherever there are spaces for like-minded people to congregate, in person or virtually, Sherlockians will be there, sharing our joy with one another and the world.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Here, There, and Everywhere

I spent an afternoon last week arguing the Sherlockian merits between Cheers, Moonlighting, The Beatles and Elvis. 

This is how I spend my free time.

Tassy Hayden was going through old episodes of Cheers on Netflix and after some "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" style jumps, we ended up in a debate with Brad Keefauver, Ashley Polasek and Howard Ostrom about the Sherlockian worthiness of some random topics. 

Sure, Moonlighting is the only one with an actual Baker Street Irregular in its ranks, Curtis Armstrong, but when I was challenged to find even one member of the Cheers cast that could be considered a Sherlockian, Howard and I both dredged up Roger Rees, who played Kirstie Allie's rich boyfriend in a later season.  He played Holmes in a 1988 BBC Radio version of HOUN and was in two episodes of Elementary in 2012 & 2014.

Keefauver tried saying that Elvis had better Sherlockian bonafides because of a book titled "Elvis, Sherlock and Me."  And that "Hound Dog" tied him to the Baskervilles.  Not the best arguments of the day.

Of course, The Beatles were from England, so there are plenty of little pieces that can be held up for an argument.  But foremost was John Lennon himself, author of the Sherlockian pastiche, "The Singular Experience of Miss Anne Duffield."  And there's this picture:

And this one:

And finally a Sherlockian journal with The Beatles on the cover edited by Keefauver himself!

Mike drop.

After this conversation wrapped up, my daughter was watching American Girl doll videos on YouTube when I heard, "Dad!  Did you know there's a Sherlock Holmes museum!  The American Girl dolls went on a tour of it!

The very next day, this movie poster was released to the internet.

80's television, music icons, kids' YouTube videos and comedy new releases.  If you look hard enough, you really can hear of Sherlock everywhere.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Some Talent in the Detective Line

I met a new detective recently. 

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Sherlock Holmes is still at the top, but this new guy made me smirk as I read his stories and really enjoyed the pacing of the writing.  Watson's narratives are so trustworthy and reliable that you can always count on a well-told story that will display Holmes' strengths while Watson's modesty forces him to downplay his own.  But this was a nice change of pace.

And sure, Watson has left us all of the trifles to pick apart.  The chronology.  The unpublished cases.  The layout of 221B.  Etc.  But for those of us who have read and reread the 60 stories over and over again, that flush of fresh adventure is gone.  And that's okay for most of us.  Sherlockians have invented our own subculture to keep us coming back to these masterpieces of storytelling. 

But I'm babbling.  I started out talking about the new guy.

School started back up this week, and if you know any teachers, you'll know we aren't able of much mental stimulation outside of work during the first week of school.  So I picked up what I expected to be a light read off of my TBR shelf, "Too Many Cooks" by Rex Stout.  I've heard about Wolfe plenty in relation to Holmes throughout my years as a Sherlockian, but this was the first Nero Wolfe story I've ever read.  And I loved every page of it (except for the outdated racial attitudes of the 30's, but that's a whole other discussion).

But Nero Wolfe isn't the interesting character in this story to me.  Archie Goodwin is my man!  Granted, I've only read one story so maybe I'm completely off here.  But his wry wit and boots on the ground activities were a delight to read.  In Watson's narratives, Holmes gets to do all of the deducing and the legwork, leaving Watson to be astonished at the reveal.  In Goodwin, we get a sidekick who isn't afraid to call his partner on his crap while being active throughout the story.  I've already ordered my next Nero Wolfe book to revisit these two again.

So I'll be revisiting Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe again, but at the end of the day, they are a nice diversion from my true literary interest: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

This We Accomplished

We did it!

The Parallel Case of St. Louis successfully pulled off Holmes in the Heartland last weekend!

It's been over 48 hours since our last event ended, and I'm still amazed at how awesome the weekend was.  We had people from as far away as California, two elementary school kids, a high school student, lots of local Sherlockians, and an impressive array of notable visitors to make for a great weekend.

If you missed the live tweets of the event, The Parallel Case of St. Louis account, Tim Johnson, and Brad Keefauver all kept people informed with their play by plays.

Sherlock Peoria and The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn's blog also had some great posts about the weekend's events.

And The Parallel Case of St. Louis' blog did a recap each night for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I think because I'm so active on social media and have been promoting it quite a bit, my name has been used more that it should have when people complimented the Holmes in the Heartland event.  I was a small part of a unbelievable planning committee that included Stacey Bregenzer, Nellie Brown, Joe Eckrich, BSI, Randy Getz, Tassy Hayden, Mary Schroeder, ASH, and Paul Schroeder.  These folks put in an insane amount of time, money and energy into this event and deserve every bit of praise that can be heaped on them.

We've received a lot of positive feedback on Holmes in the Heartland and I am SO happy that everyone that joined us enjoyed themselves.  In my mind, Holmes in the Heartland had a lot of purposes, highlight the city of St. Louis, introduce the St. Louis Sherlockian Research Collection to a larger audience outside of our region, present some heartfelt, thought provoking, and entertaining presentations etc.  But one of the most important of them were to create an event where Sherlockians can get together, make new friends, have an excuse to get together with old ones, and have a good time all around.  Judging from the feedback, I think we nailed that last one!

I've also had people ask about our next one.  But let's take a moment to enjoy what we've done.  I promise news about our future plans will come out in due time.  " But you must give me time—you must give me time!"

Monday, July 30, 2018

This is a Very Unexpected Turn of Affairs

My original plan for this week's blog was to write about some tiffs that popped up in the past week or so.  My post about the Gnostic books of Sherlockiana caused a kerfuffle on Facebook, and the fact that The Baker Street Irregulars are a trademarked organization caused some debate.

But instead I've decided to talk about sex and church.

The Old Testament reading at my church service yesterday was from Second Samuel, Chapter 11.  I immediately perked up when I saw it listed in the bulletin.  "I think I know this one..." I thought.  Sure enough, it's what I thought it was.  If it doesn't jump to mind, here's the text:

11 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth[b]? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”

22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”

25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

...and there's the story referenced in The Adventure of the Crooked Man.  I'm very interested in the intersection of our Canon and biblical scholarship, so this was especially interesting to me.  Maybe it wasn't appropriate for me to be happy to see a text about adultery and murder in church, but we take our Sherlockian in the wild sightings where we can get them sometimes.